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Emotional Eating By Rabbi Azriel Hauptman

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Mental Health Corner

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Emotional eating is when one overeats in order to get relief from negative emotions. If this occurs frequently it can lead to difficulty in maintaining a healthy body weight and it is a risk factor in the development of an eating disorder. We all understand that emotional eating rarely occurs with tomatoes and cucumbers. Foods with high levels of simple carbohydrates and fats are more often than not the food of choice for emotional eaters. Why is this so and why is it so hard to stop emotional eating? We can’t fully understand this unless we learn some history and science. Historically, human beings have lived in environments of food scarcity. Foods came from local crops that were harvested only once a year. Therefore, Hashem created us with a strong desire to consume foods that contain high levels of easily digestible sources of energy. In other words, calories! This compulsion will drive us to consume as many calories as we can which greatly enhances our chances of remaining properly nourished. In the good old days, extra calories were a blessing! Nowadays, with the globalization of the food market, we have access to amounts of food that would have been inconceivable as recently as a century ago. On one plate, you can have potatoes from Idaho, cucumbers from Mexico, lettuce from California, and beef from Argentina. We no longer need that compulsion to ensure that we ingest a sufficient amount of calories. What does this have to do with emotions? To answer that question, we have to turn to neuroscience. In order to compel us to ingest these

vital foods, our brains are wired to associate these foods with a sense of pleasure and contentment. Therefore, when you eat one of these foods you get a “dopamine squirt” in your brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that has many functions. One of its functions is that when it is released into a part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens (or known colloquially as the “pleasure center” of the brain) the person will feel pleasure, serenity, and delight. Therefore, when you induce a dopamine squirt by eating foods rich in carbohydrates or fats, you will have greatly reduced feelings of depression and anxiety which will (very temporarily) do wonders for your emotions. Emotional eating could escalate. As time goes on and our brains become conditioned to the pleasure response, our brain then offers us smaller squirts of dopamine when the pleasure is anticipated. These small doses energize and focus us on getting to the goal of the desired substance. At this point, the emotional eating has become habit-forming and is extremely difficult to control. As we can see, emotional eating is a maladaptive way of dealing with problematic emotions. Psychotherapy can help you discover more appropriate ways of dealing with your emotions and hopefully stop the disordered eating in its tracks. This is a service of Relief Resources. Relief is an organization that provides mental health referrals, education, and support to the frum community. Rabbi Yisrael Slansky is director of the Baltimore branch of Relief. He can be contacted at 410-448-8356 or at yslansky@reliefhelp.org

Baltimore Jewish Home - 3-22-18  

Baltimore Jewish Home - 3-22-18

Baltimore Jewish Home - 3-22-18  

Baltimore Jewish Home - 3-22-18

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